Saturday, July 24, 2010

"The Mysterious Crewless Ship"

Here's a story drawn by Tony Strobl and written by some unknown fellow who for convenience's sake we'll assume is ALSO Tony Strobl! It's sort of dumb in some ways, but it's also sort of neat in some ways, and I have a lot of things, some good, some bad, some meaningless nitpicking, to say about it. This is unlikely to really add up to much, but it'll be fun, maybe!
I'm going to skip over a lot of stuff in this entry, because, as is so often the case with these old non-Barks stories, there's a fair bit of uninteresting filler. As the action opens, Donald and HDL are at the harbor watchin' the ships, when one of Scrooge's ships comes in, mysteriously…well, you can read the title, can't you? Also, the cargo of rice is missing.



"The deal" is that Huey looks REALLY freakin' weird here. Strobl had a certain amount of trouble with drawing the ducklings with open mouths. This is not unusual; for some reason, HDL tend to give artists more trouble than the adult ducks (I could perhaps speculate on this further if I had any appreciable artistic ability myself). This is noticeable here on quite a few occasions.



I do like this, I really do. The idea of Scrooge building a fort out of money isn't exactly Barksian, but I think it's an appropriate, effective, and rather charming interpretation of the character. Alas, Scrooge's playtime is short-lived, as he had to book it to the dock to see what's what.



Mm. First, you have to buy the idea that it would be politically feasible for the richest individual in the world to be arrested for traffic violations (at least ones which don't actually involve mowing down pedestrians, and even then…). Then, you have to buy the idea that this would earn you THIRTY DAYS of jail-time with no possibility of parole. Those must be some pretty intense traffic laws Duckburg has. Still, I find this kind of cheering; Strobl's explicit repudiation of the notion that the rich are above the law hits me the right way, even if this is only true in an extremely limited sense.

SO ANYWAY, Donald and the boys retrace the ship's path trying to get the straight dope. They learn that--what a surprised!--the crew was kidnapped by the dreaded Natives™. Donald comes up with a great idea to sneak onto the island by swimming. This whole swim-to-the-island section is--yes indeed--FILLER, but it does feature this panel:



That "Yeah! At least a split second!" kind of ruins the effect, but in isolation, "This idea must have required a great deal of thought!" is pretty fantastic, I think. Possibly this is just because that's the kind of sarcasm to which I myself am prone, but I really do think it's more sophisticated than your normal old non-Barsian repartee.

Sooooo…they get to the island and find the natives, who are keeping the sailors captive. Only they seem to be providing them with a big feast instead of murdering them. Donald and HDL, using patented look-before-you-leap technology, rush to join in, only to learn The Terrible Truth: that this is going to be their last meal before they get sacrificed, native customs, blah blah. Worth noting is the fact that these particular natives whipsaw back and forth rather dramatically between regular dialogue and pidgin.





SOMEBODY clearly did not put much time into editing this story (though as we'll see momentarily, this may also be symptomatic of a deeper ideological confusion).

So why steal a shipful of rice?



I must preface this by noting that I am NOT an anthropologist. Nonetheless, I must continue by expressing GRAVE DOUBT that a tribe that developed on an island without rice would somehow have developed a tradition wherein rice=good fortune. What strikes me--this is along with the dialogue disparities noted above--is how undefined these natives are: they have modern American wedding traditions, which are wedded with volcano-sacrifice customs. Obviously, this is not particularly coherent, but I suppose, if anything, it's a positive step. You still have the racist ideology present as a sort of backdrop, but it isn't really guiding Strobl in any direct way; he doesn't feel beholden to it, and thus has no problems embellishing it in weird ways. Maybe this is the kind of thing that causes racism to wither and die. On the other hand, maybe you don't WANT to build a culture on a foundation of attenuated racism. On the third hand, maybe I've gone on quite long enough about this subject, given the rather inconsequential nature of the story under consideration.

As you expect, everyone escapes, but oh no; they're being chased by natives in canoes!



You know, if they possess such superhuman endurance that they're capable of keeping up with a ship for fourteen straight days, you should probably give up. You're basically doomed. I like the fact that Donald apparently dutifully logged this every day, for posterity's sake. Very responsible.

At any rate, eventually, they get back to Duckburg. Did I mention that the Beagle Boys were in jail as well? The idea is that, oh no, they're going to be released ONE DAY before Scrooge, freeing them to rob him blind! Apparently, he has NO security apparati, which irrational cheapness isn't enough to explain, inasmuch as he's shown with a chauffeur and fancy car in this very story. Okay!



That's a pretty good line, I have to say. What's somewhat less good is that Strobl has not cottoned on to the fact that the Beagles' numbers are NOT meant to include digits other than one, seven, and six. Hmph!

Scrooge gets let out early for good behavior, and the Beagles get arrested again for--yes--traffic violations. Threat disposed of! It's an example of how a lot of these stories--even the above-average ones, in which group I would place this, in spite of its flaws--really aren't very cohesive, plotwise. And what's more, it turns out the native aren't hostile AFTER all: they were just chasing the ducks to PAY them for the rice! You'd think they might've SAID something, rather than paddling in intense, angry silence for two straight weeks.



Is that "they sometimes forget we not hostile any more" a metaphor for Strobl's incoherent portrayal of the natives? It certainly COULD be. Yeah, yeah, this bit is kind written from an imperialist perspective if you wanna get technical about it, but in itself, it's pretty harmless, and I DON'T want to get into an argument right now about the cumulative effect of little things. Why don't I shut up? How jacked up AM I as I write this? Crikey.

Long story short: they pay for the rice in jewels.



That's darn nice, is what that is. A rare bit of generosity. You know, the problem with a lot of stories--by Strobl and many, many others, including Barks himself--is that Scrooge's portrayal is usually fairly one-sided. I mean yes, obviously, he's stingy, but the thing is, "making it square" indicates by necessity that he can't ALWAYS do ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING POSSIBLE to not spend even the SLIGHTEST bit of money. Taken to its logical limit--as most creators DO--that can't help but result in something far from squareness. This is a nice li'l corrective. Yeah, at the end he makes them push his car, but hey--they still scored some sweet jewels. That's just balancing things out.

So yeah, as I predicted, that was pretty incoherent. But hey--we laughed, we cried, we loved, we lost, we all learned something about ourselves. Always treasure these fond memories.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Geo:

Tony Strobl did not write his material for Western Publishing. He DID write a number of stories that he drew for the Disney Studio Program (AKA “S-Coded Stories”).

So, while we may be able to lay Odd Open-Beaked Nephews and Non-176 Numbered Beagles at his doorstep, the rest belongs to someone else. I even give him a pass on the Beagles, because the “176-Convention” might not have taken hold yet. Western’s lead time could be as far out as TWO YEARS. That’s a lot of time for others to notice something and fall in line with it.

BTW, I met the man, and had a wonderful tour of his home studio, in the late eighties. He was a very gracious and charming individual!

The idea of “Rice at a Wedding” in this context is a wonderful absurdity – and one that was sort of unusual for Western’s straightforward, Non-Barks comics of the period.

And, hey… it could have been the result of a cultural contamination not unlike that which happened (more than once) to Barks’ Plain Awfultonians. All it takes is one islander seeing the wrong romantic comedy… and BAM! Rice weddings!

Joe.

July 24, 2010 at 8:02 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Awesome that you met Strobl like that.

Your points are valid and I cannot argue with them. As I noted, I knew that Strobl himself probably wasn't the author, but all the hedging and referring to "our anonymous author" and like that gets cumbersome. So I just decided to be unfair instead.

July 24, 2010 at 9:18 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Hey, fellas and gals—you'll find the hitherto-suspiciously-numbered 176-840 on Page 23 of that Barks classic, "Only a Poor Old Man."

Many Beagles in that story are numbered on the 176-8xx plan. It definitely took awhile for the 1, 7 and 6-only scheme to arise (...and frankly, I suspect it only applies to the Beagle branch most often seen in Duckburg).

July 25, 2010 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Whoops. That's an embarrassment on my part.

Allow me to say, however, that I believe in the Beagles being part of a larger organization to the same extent that I believe in the existence of the "Beagle Brats;" ie, I DON'T, and nobody can make me.

July 25, 2010 at 2:39 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...

Geo,

Two good candidates for having written this story are Tom McKimson and Carl Fallberg.

Re the Beagle numbers: in the Barks story about Scrooge's round money bin (FOUR COLOR 495), one Beagle's plate reads 176-666! The other Beagle numbers in the story are all over the place: -730, -606, -071, -040... So Barks was definitely not yet following a pattern (other than the opening 176-) at that time.

Chris

July 25, 2010 at 3:21 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

I don't understand WHAT you have against the large organization of Beagle-Boys. I totally agree with you when it comes to the authors that treat the BB as a large gang of thief without family links… But in a lot of Italian comics, the idea is that there are THOUSANDS OF MEMBERS OF THE BEAGLE FAMILY ALL OVER THE WORLD WHO ARE ALL UNDER THE AUTHORITY OF GRANDPA BEAGLE BECAUSE THE BEAGLE BOYS OF MISSIPPI/DUCKBURG ARE THE "ORIGINALS", THEIR BRANCH BEING ANCESTOR OF ALL THE OTHERS.

And I find no problem to that idea. Yes, it is crazy. But I take it as one of the crazy jokes of the Disney comics, like how the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook contains all that knowledge or how billions of zillions of quadrifugillions can be contained in a few hundred meters cube. It's just humor.

July 5, 2015 at 12:58 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

I don't understand WHAT you have against the large organization of Beagle-Boys. I totally agree with you when it comes to the authors that treat the BB as a large gang of thief without family links… But in a lot of Italian comics, the idea is that there are THOUSANDS OF MEMBERS OF THE BEAGLE FAMILY ALL OVER THE WORLD WHO ARE ALL UNDER THE AUTHORITY OF GRANDPA BEAGLE BECAUSE THE BEAGLE BOYS OF MISSIPPI/DUCKBURG ARE THE "ORIGINALS", THEIR BRANCH BEING ANCESTOR OF ALL THE OTHERS.

And I find no problem to that idea. Yes, it is crazy. But I take it as one of the crazy jokes of the Disney comics, like how the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook contains all that knowledge or how billions of zillions of quadrifugillions can be contained in a few hundred meters cube. It's just humor.

July 5, 2015 at 12:58 PM  

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